First COVID-19 vaccines in Austin could be given by end of December, APH director says


AUSTIN (KXAN) — In an Austin City Council work session Tuesday, Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden said those at high risk of having severe complications from COVID-19 could get a vaccine “later this month.”

Hayden said in the videoconference with City Council members and Mayor Steve Adler there have been three meetings with the vaccine distribution coalition, and Pfizer has an agreement with the Texas Department of State Health Services to distribute its vaccine.

“Our hope is that the first group of folks will receive their vaccine later this month,” Hayden said. “We want to be as transparent as we can be, because we want to make sure the public has as much information as we can provide. We want to be able to ensure the trust of the community.”

Texas is one of four states where Pfizer is testing the delivery system of its vaccine, which requires sub-zero storage, and that’s what makes the delivery system critical to the vaccine’s success.

Dr. Mark Escott, APH interim health authority, was cautiously optimistic when going over charts showing a curve flattening when it comes to average hospitalizations and active cases, saying they still aren’t sure what Thanksgiving gatherings will do to the data.

“This week should be very telling for us if this trend will continue or not,” Dr. Escott said. “We flattened things last week, and we hope that continues.”

The seven-day rolling average of new hospitalizations has dropped from 38 to 32 since Nov. 24, and average daily cases moved from 300 to 232 in the same timespan.

When asked if Austin should institute a curfew to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, like what San Antonio and El Paso have done, Dr. Escott said he doesn’t think one is necessary right now.

If the area gets to Stage 5, then that’s a different story.

“We’re in a different situation right now,” Dr. Escott said of what’s going on in San Antonio and El Paso. “Our community has responded every time to that call to action. If we get to Stage 5, then we need to consider other steps, including a curfew.”

Travis County Commissioners Court

Following the presentation to council. Dr. Escott spoke with Travis County commissioners and said as a whole, the county is in better shape than most in Texas when it comes to how they’ve handled COVID-19.

He also said APH is helping the Austin Independent School District get ready for three days of rapid testing staff and students at six locations across the city. He said the district has 1,000 rapid tests ready, and the county just received a shipment of an additional 5,000.

He expressed the same concerns with the commissioners as he did with council members about Thanksgiving and the potential for a spike in cases. He also factored in that perhaps people got sick during the holiday weekend but didn’t seek medical care or testing because of it.

“One of the concerns we have association with holidays like Thanksgiving, two things happen, and we expected this,” he said, “the number of people getting tested goes down and number of people presenting to hospitals goes down.”

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